On the occasion of the upcoming National Conference “Promoting the roles of faith-based organizations in environmental protection and climate change responses” to be organized in Huế City, the Vietnam Administration Environment Magazine (VEM) had a talk with Director of Nordic Assistance to Vietnam Mr. Knut Chritansen about this Organization’s coordination with competent Vietnamese agencies to effectively implement solutions to protect the environment.
VEM: Would you please introduce briefly about Nordic Assistance to Vietnam (NAV/NCA Viet Nam)?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: NCAVN is rooted in a Nordic programme aiming at supporting repatriated Vietnamese in the late eighties.Finding that host communities and people in rural parts of provinces were equally vulnerable the programme broadened its scope towards integrated rural development. NCA entered in 1994. The programme was implemented in close cooperation with local/provincial authorities and the mass-organisations, Farmers Union, Women’s Union, Youth Union… When addressing the emerging HIV and Aids Pandemic, NCA engaged with Faith organisations and religious structures, benefiting from experiences of similar interventions in Thailand. CFF became an important partner facilitating an expanded network of FBOs on HIV/Aids work, culminating in the first National Inter-Faith Conference on that subject - in 2006. From 2013 NCA shifted from direct implementation towards civil society partnerships - with FBOs as a priority. At the same time climate change and the environment protection issues came on the top of the agenda. Mobilising religious communities and leaders across the different faith traditions became the focus. Work on climate change responses (CRR) and Disaster Risk reduction management (DRRM) and Emergency Preparedness (EP) where conducted in 4 provinces/cities.
VEM: In early December 2015, with the support of NAV/NCA and under the co-partnership between the Standing Committee of the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the first National Conference was organized in Hue City with the participation of all Faith-based organizations in Việt Nam to discuss on the coordination for environmental protection and climate change responses. This was considered as a historic milestone marking the joint commitment from all related stakeholders to protect the environment. Could you please tell us the meaning, purpose, as well as the importance of the event that NAV/NCA has joined and supported?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: NCA found the initiative taken in Vietnam, by religious social activists, the VFF and the MONRE, as an important sign of hope and change. NCA is proud and privileged to be part of creating NIC 2015 - and promoting the role of FBOs on such critically important issues.
Climate Change is a political challenge and problem, it needs political action. But at the same time, NCA has always stressed that this is a problem driven by human behaviour, of greed, short-term perspectives and a failure to maintain collective responsibility. These issues can not only be addressed politically, they also need to be addressed on an ethical or spiritual level. Faith leaders and the values and ethical reflection promoted by spiritual education can play a forceful part in moving and changing the way we prioritise and act.
VEM: Being known that Ms. Anne Marie Helland, the General Secretary of NCA Global, did refuse to attend COP 21 but prioritised her time to Huế for the conference, and for many people, her availability at the conference was a special gift, a predestined relationship. Do you have any comments or shares about this event?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: For Ms. Anne Marie Helland, the choice was not so difficult. The historic meeting in Huế, and the process of mobilizing faith actors in Việt Nam has a potential to create very significant impact. Việt Nam is an important country, not just in South East Asia. With almost 100 million inhabitants, and a fast-growing economy, Việt Nam has a skilled and hard-working population, known for both its individual entrepreneurship and strong collective. It is a country that could become a part of the problem, or an important contributor to the solution for today’s global problems with environmental degradation and climate change.
Mr. Knut Chritansen - Director of Nordic Assistance to Vietnam
When the Government and the faith leaders both come together and demonstrate a commitment to work together and promote solutions and change, NAV/NCA cannot stand on the side-lines with our commitment elsewhere.
VEM: At the conference, NAV/NCA indicated its commitment to cooperate and support necessary conditions for environmental protection and climate change response activities of Faith-based organizations, to build pilot models of religions participating in environmental protection and climate change responses. So, what are the results of this cooperation and support over the years, Sir?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: An outcome of NIC 2015 was a national joint statement committing all the main faiths and government at all levels on CCR and DRRM. This has resulted in local commitments at provincial level of local faith groups, DONRE and local authorities. According to the national report of CFF in 2017, there are 355 local initiatives of FBOs on CCR, DRRM and EP.
Central Fatherland Front (CFF) and local chapters have been key to reach out to Faith based partners of all the different faith traditions, raising their awareness through workshops and training sessions. By this we have provided space for learning and sharing experience among all faith groups in Việt Nan. NCA has been instrumental in setting up management systems for 8 FBOs to ensure the quality of management in emergency relief and project management .960 faith members have been trained through 12 national training sessions on DRRM, CCR and EP.
Five pilot models have been recognized and launched nationally, 45 rescue teams based in pagodas and churches in Huế and Hải Phòng have been established. We have supported Pháp Vân pagoda in Hà Nội and Pháp Bảo center in Hồ Chí Minh City to develop campaigns on Environmental protection, in close collaboration with local authorities and local people to ensure the ownership of the interventions.
VEM: After that Conference, the Standing Committee in cooperation with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment signed the Guidelines to develop the Coordination Program/Plan between the Central Committee of Vietnam Fatherland Front, the Departments of Natural Resources and Environment of provinces and cities and with Faith-based organizations for implementation. What are your assessments about the effectiveness and things to improve for this Joint Program during the implementation in recent years?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: We appreciate the broad mobilization capacity of FBOs and the support of local authorities. NIC provides conducive platform for learning and sharing best practices of pilot models in target provinces/cities, creating mutual understanding among the FBO leaders and related organizations as well as local authorities. The potential for scaling up best practices on CCR, DRRM and EP is great. For the FBOs to be seen as relevant and competent actors in DRRM and CCR, the quality and professionality need to be strengthened. Documentation need to be made for learning and sharing.
VEM: Could you please share the experiences of the world religions on environmental protection and climate change response? In the coming time, will NAV/NCA take what specific actions to support Việt Nam in training and networking religions to endeavour this joint mission?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: CCR and CRRM remain high on the NCA agenda globally. As for the Vietnam program - NCA is phasing out its direct involvement here but strong efforts are being made to secure the sustainability of programs and the continuation of the facilitating and networking role that NCA have played. International support is being negotiated from Germany (Bread for the World) and Norway (Norwegian Mission Alliance. This will secure the continuation of direct support to FBOs in 5 provinces/ cities with a focus on DRRM and CCR. In collaboration with CFF and local FF, we will continue our capacity building plan and provide learning and sharing arena for FBO leaders, drawing on experts and experienced practitioners inn these fields.
VEM: In your opinion, what does Việt Nam need to do so that religions go along with the authorities in implementing the joint commitments to protect the environment and respond to climate change effectively and in the long run?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: The Vietnamese Government is doing good things already, especially through the great support it mobilises through the VFF all across Việt Nam. Many Western actors fail to that the support and facilitation from VFF sometime provides platforms of democratic participation that, any other countries can’t match.
At the same time, it is important that the Vietnamese authorities give space and trust to local faith actors, so that initiatives can evolve from the bottom-up. It is often impossible for us as leaders, both in countries and international organisations, to find all the solutions ourselves. We depend on our people to see possibilities and solutions, and to let these flowers grow. This can sometimes be difficult, because Government leaders also have the responsibility to ensure that things are moving in the same direction and according to overall plans and strategies. But if you want to mobilise broad parts of society for action, you also need to trust local groups and leaders to find appropriate ways of doing this in their communities.
Another thing Việt Nam should find solutions for is how both faith actors and other local volunteer groups can be mobilised and organised to complement and support the Government response capacity to emergencies and disasters. Việt Nam has an excellent infrastructure for response, much better than most comparable countries. At the same time, it is very important to not become comfortable, and think that everything is fine everywhere. Many local “flood and storm committees” need more training, more equipment and could benefit from close cooperation with actors like the local Buddhist Families. The Government should promote this local and regional cooperation, to ensure that all forces that want to do something positive are given the opportunity to be part of the solution.
Regarding the organizational structures supporting our joint initiatives we appreciate the formation of the National Steering Committee (SC) of FBOs for CCR, DRRM and EP - with members from CFF, MONRE, NCAVN and representatives of 14 main faiths in VN. This entity was established in 2017 and meet once a year.
We suggest that this meeting should be strengthened, to reflect the national priorities to CCR, DRRM and EP as well as answering to the different problems raised by FBOs. If FBO leaders are exposed to ideas that can applied for their practical work, we are sure that they will commit to join in. The SC should be an instrument for coordination and sharing amongst the faith groups and between faiths and the relevant Government structures. It can also be a platform for advocacy from faiths and local people to Governments and related organizations. We also suggest that MONRE should have budget allocation plan for FBOs to engage in the national or provincial program and invite FBO members to national or provincial events related to CCR, DRRM and EP.
VEM: In the Mid-October 2019, in Huế City, there will be the National Conference "Promoting the roles of faith-based organizations in environmental protection and climate change responses", as a co-chair with Organization Committee, what are your expectations for the outcomes from the Conference and the action plan of NAV/NCA after this Conference?
Mr. Knut Chritansen: We hope for an inspiring and mobilizing event that reaffirms the commitments of FBO leaders as well as Government institutions and relevant ministries. Celebrating the achievements is important - but the task in front of us is colossal, calling on people of good will and with readiness to act - from all walks of life.
We are pleased to see that the space for FBOs to act as contributors to social development is expanding in Việt Nam. CFF in particular play an important role in building trust and acceptance between the Government and FBOs as well as between the different faith traditions.
Religion and spirituality are an important dimension of people’s life - the challenges that we face is not merely a technological or financial issue - it is a moral challenge as well. We will close by quoting SirGus Speth, a US environmental lawyer, advocate and advisor on climate, who said: “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that”. The roles of FBOs in this process can no more be overlooked.
VEM: Thank you very much for the interview!
Phạm Tuyên (Implemented)